The Relation Between Positive and Negative Affect Becomes More Negative in Response to Personally Relevant Events

Egon Dejonckheere*, Merijn Mestdagh, Stijn Verdonck, Ginette Lafit, Eva Ceulemans, Brock Bastian, Elise K. Kalokerinos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Can we experience positive (PA) and negative affect (NA) separately (i.e., affective independence), or do these emotional states represent the mutually exclusive ends of a single bipolar continuum (i.e.. affective bipolarity)? Building on previous emotion theories, we propose that the relation between PA and NA is not invariable, but rather fluctuates in response to changing situational demands. Specifically, we argue that our affective system shifts from relative independence to stronger bipolarity when we encounter events or situations that activate personally relevant concerns. We test this idea in an experience sampling study, in which we tracked the positive and negative emotional trajectories of 101 first-year university students who received their exam results, an event that potentially triggers a personally significant concern. Using multilevel piecewise regression, we show that running PA-NA correlations become increasingly more negative in the anticipation of results release, indicating stronger affective bipolarity. and ease back toward greater independence as time after this event passes. Furthermore, we show that this dynamic trajectory is particularly apparent for event-related PA and NA, and not affect in general, and that such shifts are partly a function of the importance people attribute to that event. We suggest that such flexible changes in the affect relation may function as an emotional compass by signaling personally relevant information, and create a motivational push to respond to these meaningful events in an appropriate manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-336
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • affective bipolarity
  • affective independence
  • goal-related emotion
  • experience sampling
  • LIFE


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